Carnival Corp.’s Italian unit is racing to prevent its crippled cruise liner from spewing 2,300 tons of fuel into Europe’s biggest marine park, as the search continues for 29 missing passengers and crew members.
Costa Crociere SpA, which operated the stricken Costa Concordia, has hired Smit Salvage, a unit of Royal Boskalis Westminster N.V., to remove the fuel. Smit personnel and equipment have begun to arrive in the area and company divers hope to inspect the ship in the coming days, said Martin Schuttevaer, director of investor relations for Boskalis.
Time is critical to removing the 500,000 gallons of fuel as deteriorating weather and shifts in the boat’s position increase the risk of a spill. Search and rescue operations had to be suspended for four hours yesterday after the Costa Concordia moved position in rising seas off the Italian island of Giglio.
“Ill weather is the greatest risk to the environment right now because high waves might move or break the ship causing fuel to leak,” Alessandro Gianni, campaign director of Greenpeace Italy operations, said in a phone interview. “Containment barriers that have been placed around the ship don’t work in high waves.”
The ship struck a reef off the island of Giglio on Jan. 13 after the captain overrode a pre-programmed route to sail close to the island, hours after the vessel left a port near Rome with 4,000 passengers and crew for a Mediterranean cruise. Six people are confirmed dead and rescue workers are still searching for survivors in the partially submerged cruise liner.
The ship is lying on its side off Giglio, an island of 1,500 inhabitants in winter who survive on fishing and tourism, located about 14 miles from the Tuscan coast. Giglio lies within the “Santuario dei Cetacei,” an area of roughly 87,500 square kilometers that in 1999 was declared by the governments of France, Italy and Monaco a sanctuary for marine mammals such as dolphins and whales.
“This is a particularly sensitive area of great environmental value and it just makes you wonder why on earth such large ships are allowed to go through there,” said Giuseppe Notarbartolo, regional coordinator for the Mediterranean for the International Union for Conservation of Nature. “Fuel spills can cause decade-long damage on local animal and plant populations and must be avoided.”
The ship’s 17 fuel tanks are double hulled for added protection and no oil has leaked until now, said Pier Luigi Foschi, chairman of Costa Crociere.
Environmental damage “is our main concern after human lives,” Foschi said at a press conference yesterday in Genoa. “I hope the fuel can be taken off the ship soon.”
The heavy fuel used to power the ship becomes semi-solid when cooled, making it harder to pump unless it is re-heated or diluted. Removing the fuel could take at least two weeks in good weather, he said.
Smit used a similar technique in June of last year to remove fuel from a tanker that has been sitting off the coast of South Korea for more than 30 years. The company employed a tank heating system to remove about 500 tons of oil from the tanker Kyung Shin, which was at a depth of about 100 meters, according to the company’s website.
The Costa Concordia tanks were full, having refueled at Civitavecchia near Rome hours before hitting the reef. While the ship is lying in about 60 feet of water, rescue workers are concerned that currents and waves could push it off an undersea ledge and in into deeper water.
The environmental risk for Giglio “is extremely high,”
Italy’s environment Minister Corrado Clini said yesterday. The “the entire archipelago” may be at threat “depending on how the sea moves.”
Prime Minister Mario Monti’s government plans to declare a state of emergency for the area, news agency Ansa quoted Clini as saying yesterday
“We are very nervous right now and concerned about the future,” said Luca Milani, 38, who owns a building company on the island. “I was born here, I live here, I work here, this place is my life and all I have. Now there is a risk of an environmental catastrophe and that would be the end for us.